No matter what walk of life we come from, and wherever we live now, those who call Hawaiʻi home will always come together like ʻohana
It was an unusually sweltering night in Whangarei, when we gathered together around our captains, Bruce Blankenfeld and Kālepa Baybayan. They soon informed us that a family from Hawaiʻi – Sidney Quintal and Tara Chanel – wanted to host us at their home.
After a short drive through the Northland hillsides, our crew caravan drove one by one through a gate, leading us down a windy path home to several dozen sheep. As we arrived at our destination we were immediately greeted by smiling faces and friendly shakas, welcoming us into their home. These were complete strangers, but as soon as we exchanged our first aloha, we knew we were already friends. There we stood, thousands of miles away from Hawaiʻi, yet it felt like home.
Familiar Hawaiian mele filled the air, accentuating the beautiful house decorated with sentimental pieces from Hawaiʻi. The tables were set out on the lānai, overlooking a breathtaking view of the water. Peaking over the railing, just below on the lawn, sat a small pile of dirt, about six feet across and perfectly round. Could it be? Yes, it was an imu, filled with mea ʻai that was specially prepared for our crew.
Our captains and crewmembers all pitched in, shoveling the dirt away, peeling off the steaming burlap bags, and letting the aroma of white smoke escape into the air. Beneath that was a pile of banana leaves, blanketing our meal for the evening: kumara (ʻuala), chicken, and pork. Our hosts were more than pleased to have us their to help, as many of us had done this time and time again.
Our meal was a mix of local favorites and Hawaiian home cooking. Among the kālua pig and sweet potatoes, were kai moana (ʻai o ka moana) from these waters: clams, mussels and smoked fish. As the sun lowered and the plates emptied, we moved inside for an impromptu kanikapila.
As we sat and began to play, I was immensely grateful to be surrounded by some of the greatest voyagers that ever set foot on the waʻa. These are the greats: the captains and the navigators, the pioneers and the legends. Billy Richards, Dennis Chun, ʻŌnohi Paishon, Pōmai Bertelmann, just to name a few.
The best parts of it all were not so much the songs, but the stories that were shared in between, about what those mele meant and the memories behind them.
No matter what walk of life we come from, and wherever we live now, those who call Hawaiʻi home will always come together like ʻohana, sharing food, stories, and music. Thousands of miles away, we found a home away from home.